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Why adults still dream about school

Why adults still dream about school


·September 22, 2022


I feel like this is because school, especially college, and particularly exams, is about as high-stakes as most people's lives ever get, so they look back at that time as peak-anxiety. Think about it: you're being evaluated and the result of that evaluation shapes the next step in the pipeline, and ultimately the trajectory of the rest of your life! Well, at least that's what the university officials, professors, your peers and parents all tell you. You pretty much have a series of "one chance" events that you must pass or you're done for. Failure of any step is permanent, and affects your average (seemingly) forever.

The whole path from elementary school through to college graduation feels like a career development game where the stakes are raised every year. Fail once off the path, and it's Walmart Greeter for you, forever! It's no wonder I still wake up in a cold sweat over it, 30 years on.


When am sufficiently stressed at work - a recurring dream I have is that I am in the exam room ready to take a test, but did not study or I have mixed up the dates and came prepared for the wrong subject.

But overall school and college was a great experience - the tests and assignments sucked, but what I remember is the great friends that I made, the interesting people that I met and all the personal exploration that I did.

No regrets that I took my sweet time to finish undergrad, in the grand scheme of life it was not time wasted, but time well spent.

Adulting does not offer the same opportunities - so kids bask in your youth! It's fleeting and gone before you know it.


> so kids bask in your youth! It's fleeting and gone before you know it.

Depends on the perspective, I guess. I was working in several different places, and sometimes I had hard time. Even working in the worst places, I felt better than in school.

I hated elementary school, because kids were cruel (some time I came back to home with chocking marks) and teachers decided to just not see bullying. Or decided to give me a hard time, too. When someone destroyed my textbook by writing on it while I was not at the desk, I got note to the parents because supposedly I told someone to do that.

I kinda liked liceum because finally people were more mature. But man, long term, it was very exhausting. The lesson schedule looked like it was set randomly. For example, in second class, being 16-17 yo, Thursdays I had lessons from 9 AM to 6 PM, and the next day I was starting at 7 AM. I was tired all the time and had no time for social interactions.

Please note that the following paragraph is not personal. It applies to the entire phenomenon. For me, it is annoying when grown-ups tell children that it is the best time in their life. When I was a kid, I felt fear a lot. As a teenager, I was depressed and tired all the time. And, you know, if it is the best time in my life, why should I care about my future at all? It is going to be terrible anyway...

Everyone has its own perspective. Maybe you had great time in school. Maybe for my mother, school years actually are the best years of her life. But telling young people that they are living the best time in their lives, and it will be only worse later, is... unfair.


I share your experience. I always felt out of place and struggled through school. Tired, extremely bored, constantly felt inadequate. There were a few teachers that basically carried me through because they saw something in me. But other than that it often felt like torture.


I want to echo this sentiment, albeit for different reasons.

When I have a particularly bad day as an adult, I often think back to being a child (or worse, teenager) in school forced to follow arbitrary rules by tired adults who were more interested in making sure nobody wore a baseball cap than keeping kids safe from anaphylactic allergic reactions.

When I think back to my school days and how anxious, stressed, unheard, and restricted I felt almost 100% of the time, I usually feel immediately better.

I remember being 16 in high school, and during the school day I couldn't just take a walk, because that would be truancy to skip class.

I couldn't just take a walk at night because our municipality instituted a curfew past I don't know, 10pm or something for those under 18, and a police car actively patrolled my neighborhood for violations.

I lived 18 years like that. Allowed to make no choices about where I went to school or at what time.

So now, as an adult, sometimes I just exit my apartment and walk down a city street when I feel like it, and it feels extremely empowering.

Taking a mental health day and not showing up to work, or better yet, handing in my resignation, also feel extremely empowering.

From my perspective, being a child sucked. I hated almost every moment of it, despite being reasonably popular in high school, having a close circle of friends, and never worrying about my grades.

Being an adult is amazing by comparison and I would never want to go back.

But I also understand that to some degree, that's a result of the freedom that comes with a high salary and an in-demand skillset that allow me to leave jobs and take days off with little risk. Many adults don't have that opportunity, and I totally understand how in some cases they could see their childhood as having been better due to a lack of responsibilities.


I don't think it's a perspective - I believe I was fortunate to have the support system that I had. As a child you are supposed to be protected and cared for. And I hope that I can do the same for my children.

Maybe you mistook my perspective for hubris - but it is what childhood should be - innocent and pure and if it's not, then society is failing.


Very much agree with this. I often (day-)dream about using a time machine to tell my younger self a few words that would have changed the whole experience drastically. The main advice would be: stop trying to care. You, my young friend, are not the stakeholder in the institutions you're forced to attend. The system doesn't have your well-being and your benefit as a first priority. The interests of the faculty, parents, and in some cases future employers, are much more important, and you have no way to influence that, no matter what you do. When they think about you it's invariably an afterthought and they have a world of incentives to deny reality, bias the analyses, and treat you and your friends as means to some end.

I hated school. I hated the inadequacy of lesson - some were obviously way too easy for me, while others way too hard. The number of lesson hours per week per subject didn't align with my interests nor the difficulty of the subject. The amount of wasted time was staggering. For example, it so happened that I didn't attend high-school for half a year in my fourth semester. I had enough scores in some subjects to pass, but for a few I didn't, and was given a few weeks to prepare for oral exams. I managed to learn half a year worth of biology, history, and chemistry in 3 weeks, and passed the exams. It was a Pyrrhic victory - I passed to the next grade, but at the same time I realized that I'm wasting (6 months - a few weeks) each semester. I started questioning the meaning of going to school; I realized that I could learn faster on my own, then realized that I would have learned a whole lot more if I could learn with a mentor who'd have my best interests in mind. I also realized that no teacher has an interest in working with someone like me, and that the system is actively hostile to all the non-standard approaches and needs. By the next year, I was diagnosed with depression and missed the whole year while trying to come to grips with that harsh reality.

Later on, I was locked in a constant harassment from an English teacher (a second language here). I learned English in private lessons and on the Internet and I was good at it. That was unacceptable for her. I was to sit quietly in the corner and when I tried to participate in the lesson, I was branded her enemy. The unfair treatment was to the point where I barely graduated, yet I got 97% score on the matriculation exam. I had an urge to find her and throw the results in her face, but I knew I would never recover the lost time and expended psychological effort to persevere.

If I could do it all again, I would focus all I had on breaking out of the system. That system very obviously wasn't made for people like me, but I felt helpless, knowing there's no alternative. It was wrong. The alternatives are always there, even if deliberately hidden as to not "encourage abnormal behavior". I could have tried harder to get away from the system that damaged my health and gave me next to nothing in exchange. And if I couldn't find an alternative, I would have changed my attitude at least: look, Mr. teacher, you're being paid to teach me, and I'm not being paid to learn. So, Mr. teacher, act like I'm a paying customer, please. Because otherwise, Mr. teacher, I'll go through all possible means to fuck you up, cheerfully and as a hobby. Just as you've been doing to me all this time.


Hell, I have dreams that I've forgotten to attend class all semester long in grad school and the final exam is tomorrow, and I never even went to grad school! It's like my brain subconsciously realized the undergrad panic dreams no longer make sense as that's too long ago, so now they've evolved to something more suitable for later in life, even though I never did that thing.


This is my dream as well. About 10 years (god has it been that long?) ago I took an informal poll of my small office and was shocked at how many of them had this specific dream. Not just some school anxiety dream. That specific dream where you have a class you either forgot you enrolled in or never attended and have the final coming up. It was like 60% of the office!


I have had a few dreams about forgetting that I have registered for a class, and realizing late that I have an exam.

A more recurrent dream for me is finding myself in the backseat of an empty, moving car, able to reach the steering wheel, but unable to control the brakes.

I wonder what this means. It is unnerving.


It's such a common dream! I wonder how school-themed stress dreams would have manifested for people who lived before what we would recognize as "modern" educations system...


I legit had a dream recently that I had enrolled in a graduate degree and then forgotten I was enrolled for months and now it was a week before exam time I had just had a realisation of "Oh hey, didn't I enrol in a degree?"

I have no idea where that dream came from or why I had it. I have never had a "didn't study" dream before, university was a relatively stress free time for me compared to my earlier years


I have persistent dreams in which I decide to change my career to something more interesting, but requiring a different university degree that the one I have now (CS). In these dreams, I decide to go back to high school to improve on my final grades, so that I have higher chance of getting into my new university of choice (HS grades are a large component of that in Poland). Through these dreams, I attend the HS classes (as a 40-year old), sweat about the homework and exams etc. It's not a nightmare, it's just bizzare.


Oh my god it's due today -- wait I never even have been to that class all semester -- Oh no oh no oh no


Mine was that I had forgotten to take a class or that the records were lost and I had to redo the last years of college. It was a nightmare I had even a decade after getting my degree.


> I have dreams that I've forgotten to attend class all semester long

This one is a recurring dream for me and sometimes the context is middle or high school which makes even less sense.


I have a recurring dream where the university revokes my diploma years after graduating because I actually somehow dropped out of all my classes and forgot to finish the final projects/exams.

That never happened, but I did drop a couple classes before the withdrawal deadline to fix the workload. It feels so real though.


I have variants of this. I have a diploma but I took a class and failed it after and that dropped me below a certain gpa and my diploma gets revoked.

Or I don’t have a HS diploma even though I graduated college and have had a job for 20 years.


For me, that is a common setup for a dream where I then have to take high-school or college classes again as my adult self.


In my opinion...

You earned your degree, and your subconscious needs to needs to acknowledge it.

Why would you be drug down by this question? Perhaps there is a deeper reason.

“Dig deep within yourself, for there is a fountain of goodness ever ready. Dig deep, and it will ever flow." -Marcus Aurelius


I dropped out of college and never have the forgotten exam dreams. However I did do four years of theater and I regularly have the opening night, don't know my lines nightmare.


I honestly have recurring PTSD from some of the violence I was forced to walk into day after day to graduate, where all school authorities were more interested in a coverup than helping. My grades were shockingly not that good in this environment and I was just told I was too stupid to learn any topic about computers I wanted and had to learn some less prestigious topics after graduation. In this environment I could hardly enjoy good times with friends, there was just too much of a shadow lurking over the whole thing.

I had to leave school to learn, and now that I’m a computer programmer, I feel apprehension that I might have to go back to school to four years to pretend to learn topics I learned independently just to assuage the school systems ego enough that they will give me an accreditation. The idea of going back to school makes me tense up at this point. Adulthood is so much less traumatizing because it feels like you have so much more choice to avoid abuse, and you can choose to confront abusive situations on your own schedule. You’re valued for so many more reasons than your ability to tolerate abuse and produce good test scores.


> When am sufficiently stressed at work - a recurring dream I have is that I am in the exam room ready to take a test, but did not study or I have mixed up the dates and came prepared for the wrong subject.

Because my high school Biology course (A Levels in the UK) was divided into modules assessed throughout two years I came to the last exam pretty sure that I didn't have to score many marks to get the grade I was aiming for.

I ended up in a weird situation where my instinct was to prepare really well but, in practice, I should skimp on revision for Biology and concentrate on subjects that weighted the end-of-year exams higher.

The strategy worked out - I hit what I was aiming for in Biology and in the other subjects. But that whole very tactical approach so went against my character that, to this day, anxiety dreams manifest about not having done the work for that specific exam. Often they're further exaggerated (e.g. I've simply forgotten to go to any lessons all year, etc) but it focuses around that event.

I find it weird that my subconscious prefers that over arguably even more stressful (and sometimes less successful!) exams at university. Maybe I was just more equipped to deal with it by then.


Clearly we didn't have the same experience at school. I'd never go back, not for anything. I'm glad you had a better time.


> recurring dream I have is that I am in the exam room ready to take a test, but did not study or I have mixed up the dates and came prepared for the wrong subject.

I get these exact nightmares. I wonder how common is this.


I have no idea how common the nightmare is. I have never had them. But I did mix up the dates for my exam.

My friend called me as I was about to go to the gym and asked where I was, with a very concerned voice. It turned out that I was supposed to be at an exam. I rushed home, changed clothes and went like crazy to school. Luckily they let me in as the last one of the day - of course I had not prepared in the slightest - but did absolutely fine :)


> is about as high-stakes as most people's lives ever get

I don't think that's the case, but more that kids are being put in these "high stakes" situations without the mental capacity to handle them. Turning in an assignment late, underpreparing or waking up late for an exam, getting a B+ instead of an A, fumbling during a presentation – these are all insignificant and completely artificial problems in the grand scheme of life. However when you are a student going through them it feels like the end of the world, and that memory sticks.


I think a lot more people are struggling between passing and failing than getting a B instead of an A.


True, but as you get further towards "A" average, the seeming difference between an A and a B gets more important.

The only person I have ever known to have cried over grades was someone who cried over getting a B+ instead of an A. I know many more people who got D's instead of C's -- they didn't care.


I really wish school could some how be completely overhauled to project-based learning. I feel live tests and exams optimize for the wrong thing and in general don’t help anyone except making it easier for schools to score students.

I usually learned the most out of take-home exams. You’d usually need to study and brush up on things, but then having a week to thoroughly work out everything was always a great learning experience. It is a way of the professor saying “you should know this and if not, know how to figure it out”. It was an actually good test of your knowledge and skill and didn’t rely on being able to spit something out in one or two hours in a stressful environment.

I think you’re right that no adult experiences moments like you get in school exams. Almost never are you required to know some relatively arbitrary thing or solve some problem within an hour or teo. There are crunches and moments of needing to fix something quickly and important presentations, but in every case you are presented with something you already know about or have day to day experience with. And failure is usually not some drastic adjustment of your future. If the professor is not good, which is the norm, then exams are a bit of a toss up.


It would be nice if they were able to emulate some of the more security focused interviews I've had. It consists of sitting in a room, and just a discussion about random things. For example, say an operating systems final, where it consists of you sitting with a professor and just having a conversation about the class, like "Tell me what you understand about access times for devices? What about x, y and z?'. I know there's biases, but I feel like when a person can use conversational computer science about the subject, it shows they understand the concepts enough and are ready for the real world.

At my current company, the security positions are focuses like that and actually test people, the Dev interviews are two leetcode questions and a conversation to make sure you arn't a complete dunce. I havn't met a single dumb person on the other side of the fence, but I have met alot of dumb devs here.


This. school isn't teaching you the topic, it's teaching you to pass an exam. I had a physics teacher that fully understood this. All we did was past papers for like 6 months of I don't really remember much physics but I got a good grade in this class and it helped get me into uni so who cares. If schools really cared about passing on knowledge then most things should be project/course-work based with a small write-up explaining what you did etc depending on the subject to make sure you know what you're talking about. though we'd probably see much higher grades overall, but we wouldn't know if this is because it's a better way to judge knowledge or because the teacher just told them what to write.


The primary problems arise from (1) mass education and (2) cheating.

Project-based learning can't be managed with 40:1 student teacher ratios. The best learning has always come from projects and apprenticeship/mentorship style systems, but even managing that with 3 classes with a 10:1 student teacher ratio becomes hard. This should make sense, almost all the economic evidence is that parent characteristics are hands down the largest factors in what a kid's future income will be (mentorship).

Cheating is rampant which is why take-home exams rarely exist.

The reality is the world would be far better off with 3 times as many teacher, but you can't keep teachers wages as high as they are with 3 times the supply.


I left high school in junior year (intending to go straight to college — didn't work out, long story). I took the GED test, and I was SO MAD because I realized I could have aced that test straight out of 8th grade.

Has anyone ever asked about my GED? No. Lol. Has lacking a college degree held me back? No (though there are definitely fields where it would have).

One of the hardest parts of young adulthood is sorting out which bits of "received wisdom" actually deserve that label versus being cached now-bullshit that your parents and teachers don't know is obsolete. My parents were right about a lot of interpersonal stuff, but dead wrong about whether I needed to go to college in order to obtain good jobs.


Yeah, and all the advice we get is lagged by 10-20 years. Parents are pretty far removed from the reality of entry level job markets and changes in industries


> One of the hardest parts of young adulthood is sorting out which bits of "received wisdom" actually deserve that label versus being cached now-bullshit

This actually never stops I think.


In California you can't take the test until you're 18 (or perhaps a year or two earlier if you can convince your local school district to give you permission).


It appears that the limits for the CHSPE are still being at least 16 years old, or having completed part of tenth grade, which have been the requirements for as long as I can remember. However, it does appear the interpretation of that has changed. When I took it, if you were home schooled, even if you were home schooled for the express purpose of taking the exam, you could have your parents attest that you were working at a tenth grade level; I took it when I was thirteen by doing this, and know a number of others, some considerably younger, who did as well. It appears that the current requirements actually do require some form of official school district approval, which may have been in response to that method of taking the test early. If that's the case, it's unfortunate; I certainly don't regret having taking the route I took. If anything, I somewhat regret listening to the advice of those around me who kept advising me against it, and giving the normal school system, which made me miserable, more chances than I needed to.

As for the commenter's point on people caring or not caring about the GED/CHSPE; apart from needing it for my initial community college admission immediately after getting it, it never came up for me at all, despite teachers insisting for years that getting a diploma that way would ruin us. I don't even remember any the details of it, or where the documentation is: there's little point in having anything pre-university on a CV.


Huh, didn't realize that. I was on the older side for my grade — turned 18 at the end of junior year – so I guess it didn't come up.


That's what I find fascinating honestly. We let our kids undergo grueling periods while we as adults live a leisurely life. Kids have incredible strict rules to adhere to. It was almost completely unheard of for a kid to come in late in school. Kids can't do the things they want to do because parents stop them. That in combination with the high-pressure environment of school... I think the only reason they accept it is because they don't know any better.

Comparatively most adults have incredible comfortable lives. Besides going to work they can basically do whatever they want. There is no pressure to strive for anything. It's baffling to me how people can lay such high pressure on their children but let themselves go in their own life.


>It's baffling to me how people can lay such high pressure on their children but let themselves go in their own life.

The reason why most adults are not very motivated when it comes to learning is because school has killed their learn drive. The recurring dreams may very well be a sign of a traumatic experience.

You can read more here:

Instead of putting pressure, parents should take away this very crippling aspect of today's schools by telling their children that grades are not so important and that the often required cramming does more harm than good.

If a child's learn drive survives school it will surpass many of its peers futher down the road.


I didn't mean learning specifically. Anything really.


Half joking: where can I find this adult leisure? School meant free food and post school meant (really, really) struggling to stay afloat financially. It took nearly a decade to get to a point where I could take a vacation without risk of financial ruin (like get evicted or not be able to pay for fuel to get to work). Now things are much better financially but I still don't do what i want to do because i still have a lot of responsibilities. My kids however are leisurely creatures who i wish would take school more seriously as I'm worried about their ability to support themselves as they come to that age.


Of course everyones adult life is different but if you have a decent job you generally never have to worry about money, unless you spend it on unneeded stuff(I admit this assumes a western country). That doesn't mean it matches your experience, but an outlier doesn't invalidate the general point I made.

> My kids however are leisurely creatures

How so? They are forced every weekday under duress of the law to go to a place they didn't choose to be. If they don't perform in their forced labor they are put into more forced labor. They have to listen to you and you probably very often take away their agency to do what they desire. Kids do have more "free" time, but that time is not actually free. But the way the can spend is very narrow. But more time does not equal better.


It is all bullshit.

One of my favorite engineers dropped out of college because the university (UC) demanded an English proficiency test for the diploma after completing 4 years of of school.

Now they have 40+ patents and confounded 3 biotech companies with 9 digit exits.

Friends from the old days ironically refer to them as Dr.<Name> because they are the smartest person they know.

Sort of a community bestowed honorary doctorate.


I knew a few people who were stuck in that mindset of "if I don't get straight As in everything I'm going to be doomed forever" mindset in both highschool and university. It did not seem to make them very happy, and it's entirely bullshit, especially in highschool.


Eh, I still dream about school sometimes, and it was as low stakes as it can get for me.

I never studied for anything, never did any homework, and to enter university in Germany I just needed good enough grades to pass high school (Gymnasium). GPA was irrelevant.

Of course, I don't wake up with any cold sweat over it.


For me as well, in the last years of Gymnasium they didn't control homework or even attendance much. I missed many classes in the last 2-3 years, because I preferred to stay at home and get some sleep or whatever. Or maybe it is more that I missed most classes by sleeping in class. Memories are hazy at this point. Which could be one reason that I've started to have these dreams where I notice I didn't attend this particular class all year and it's too late.


In Poland, if you want to get into any university, High School diploma is all you need. However, if you want to go the best ones, or to a popular subject (psychology, computer science) in a mediocre one, you need good grades.


The situation is similar in Germany, where I grew up. You need good grades to study the popular subjects. For mathematics, they took anyone who was willing.


There isn't a week when I don't have a day where I feel like a total monster at 7:15am trying like crazy to motivate my frustrated and anxious teenager off to high school and asking her about her homework and the like...

And then promptly waltz upstairs with my coffee, sit in front my computer, read the news and (mostly) happily write program on computers all day, while playing with my border collies and walking through my hobby vineyard in my spare time.

School sucked for me, and I kinda... turned out despite it... but I somehow have to get my kids through it.


Naive question here: I've wondered about this. Non-parent here (so far), so I'm about to arrogantly over-simplify a lot of things...

The science around teenagers needing more sleep, and doing better in life/school/everything if they start their day later, seems well-established at this point.

Additionally, there's plenty of known-better ways to learn beyond the rote-memorization-and-standardized-test system that's still de rigueur.

Are there no schools out there that put these things together and make an attempt at something better, especially for high-performing kids? What if school started at (say) 10-ish, and it gradually became more and more self-directed as kids headed towards graduation? What if it also mixed in all the latest cutting-edge research about how kids learn math/science/languages/etc? What if it also got creative with the curriculum and mixed in all the topics that people always say should be in schools, like "how to do your taxes" and whatnot?

I remember getting to college and being wildly unprepared for everything. School before then was devastatingly boring and fostered very little independence. Then college came along, and it was both brutally difficult and had almost no guardrails of any kind.

It was quite a transition, and it makes me wonder why there aren't more varieties/experiments around radically different approaches to schooling. At minimum, for high-performing kids, you'd think the modern world would have something.


>I remember getting to college and being wildly unprepared for everything.

You answered your own question here. Most “high performing” kids will lose interest in one of the foundational branches of math and will decide instead to read fantasy or build a potato cannon.

Without the structure stressing the stuff that is truly important despite it not seeming like it at the time, the vast majority will land in college needing to take remedial high school courses in math and science.


I think the main difficulty for middle and high schoolers is adapting to a class/learning schedule which is a slow drip of multiple subjects all at the same time.

I know that my own children don't master subjects that way and it also doesn't mirror adult work.


The high performing kids need less help.

As to the why things are the way they are, people don't wanna do better because it's inconvenient.


Doesn't that depend on what school is for? If the importance of school is overwhelmingly the subject matter or the grades, then I'd agree that high-performing children need less help. To the extent that children need something else from school, high-performing children might need more help than average-performing children. Maybe the average-performing children are more dependent on effective study techniques, while the high-performing children can perform at the expected level with little study. If the subject matter turns out later to be useless, at least the average-performing children have picked up the study techniques they need to learn something useful, but the formerly high-performing children might then face a bigger challenge. Even if school subject matter is useful, that doesn't help those who already know it; they aren't gaining knowledge or productive habits.


Yes, there are alternative schools out there. They are increasingly rare though. I was lucky enough to end up at one and it was fantastic.

As another commenter noted, it's the privileged kids who get opportunities like that. Which is a real shame because it's an environment that lifts those who need more flexibility and personal support.


Part of the function of a school is to free parents time so they are able to go to work. Even high school essentially is in large parts teenage daycare. This function gets diminished when they start later in the day - meaning economically, you diminish the potential output of your population.

Schools that are up to date on this and follow advice exist, but are expensive and rare - which also attract parents who do not need to sit at a desk or stand in front of a CNC machine at 8:30am. Gordonstoun/Schloss Salem comes to mind.


> I remember getting to college and being wildly unprepared for everything. School before then was devastatingly boring and fostered very little independence.

College wise, what I recall was a lot of freshmen who just couldn't be assed to wake up for class or do homework without parents on their case. Especially with the dorm basically being a 24/7 LAN party, and I recall one dude who just watched like, every DVD ever. The coursework itself in freshman year was comparatively breezey.

For school before then, I suppose it depends on your definition of boring and independence. IEPs for gifted kids can put you into advanced classes of all kinds. It's still very much on rails, so I'd liken the independence to a choose your own adventure book. And, sure you can do AP English instead of normal english but you have to read like, Bronte and Hurston, so the boring is only far off.


There's a big push in this area at the moment. I've just recently started a Head of Engineering role where I'm developing supporting tech for school aged children. In our case the programs are currently more on the supplementary side of things rather than replacing core curriculum.

I don't have anything to do with it (yet?) but our sister institution is Alpha School -

They're trying to change schooling to be more efficient, engaging, and self directed.

My understanding is they're far from alone, and there's a lot of interest in overhauling traditional schooling at the moment.

I mean, there's been interest in overhauling traditional schooling since forever. However, a significant up-tick in (temporary?) home-schooling during the pandemic really got parents thinking about education methodologies.


OP's experience has far less to do with school, and significantly more to do with parenting a teenager.


I feel totally the same! Even though I don't have particularly bad experiences from school I do really prefer my current stage of life, where I work and learn about things that I'm really interested in.


A week training course can get super tedious even on an interesting topic. When the kids are bored at school I get it. Not sure what the solution is, life is geared up this way.


Recess helps. But most people would rather go home an hour sooner instead of spending an hour in the middle of the day at work futzing around.


Passing off your anxieties to your kid sounds like a great plan. Kinda glad now my parents left me to my own devices regarding school after like, 6th grade.


Except legally you can’t simply not take tour kids to school. Doing it in a “non anxious” way is a challenge


I most areas you can homeschool, which is whatever you and your kid want as long as they pass some tests and file some paperwork.


> School sucked for me, and I kinda... turned out despite it... but I somehow have to get my kids through it.



We live in a society. I don't get to define the world my children live in. They will have to work and survive in the same world you and I do, with all its broken processes and expectations. It's complicated and full of contradictions.

When she was at home during COVID, her mental health suffered greatly, and remote learning simply did not work for her. Daily structure is important, and so is social interaction. And we cannot provide that for her at home.

My (teen) daughter I referred to is in a specialist arts high school program on a media&visual arts track. It's unique for our whole province, and required an audition (portfolio in her case) to get into. But she does have to maintain a reasonable report card in other subjects to stay in that program or risk getting dumped out into the local 'regular' high school. By and large she's motivated by that, but it is anxiety inducing.

The 7:15am departure time reflects this situation. She has to take a (school board provided) cab all the way across the city for 8:40am bell time. It's a garbage start time for teens, but I don't make the decisions.

She is a very bright and talented artist. Her post-high school situation will be a financial struggle, I'm sure, but likely also quite rewarding and creative. Just need to get there.


Yes, why? My thought exactly.


This is quite real. I did EECS at Berkeley Engineering and I still have nightmares about not finishing something and this is close to 20 years later. I’m going to a BBQ next week with some of my classmates and I’m going going to ask them. A buddy went to West Point and he had similar nightmares. My guess is that it’s more prevalent in the very demanding and competitive STEM majors and probably architecture. I remember humanities classes as being a lot of work, nothing at Berkeley was easy, but manageable and nothing like the STEM load.

For my EE120 review session when we staggered in, the GSI consoled us saying if it meant anything, we’d done as much in one semester as he’d done in two and a half at his school and he was a Berkeley grad student which is insanely competitive to get into in its own right.


I did CS at University of Washington in the early 2000s and I still have nightmares about it. I loved the coursework itself, but the whole meta game of the program was pretty traumatizing.

They (along with some other STEM programs) used first and second year calculus and physics courses to select who they would admit. So you needed to be within some top percentile of the students in those courses at the end of your second year or else you would need to transfer schools or choose a different major.

On top of this, the course registration system was similar to trying to get a PS5 on launch day. If you didn’t get your courses registered without time conflicts within 5 minutes of opening well, better luck next quarter. And then if you didn’t get the course you needed this quarter then you were at risk of having to overload yourself the following quarter to get back on track.

One strategy to mitigate the registration crunch was to sign up for more courses than you actually intended to take. You had a grace period of I think a week during which you could drop a course with no consequence (and folks on the wait list could take your place). This mechanic is the source of my recurring nightmares. In my dreams, I forget to drop the extra course in my schedule, and I only realize it after the second midterm.


The UW was absolutely awful (Probably Legislature's fault) with the bait and switching on the education they offered. Some other state schools have similar problems.


Hey! I’m an incoming UW CS student and I would love to hear what you mean by that! I’ve already taken my calc physics and CS at community college so after reading your comment it sounds like I’m in for the worst of it.

Thank god CS is direct to major now (I think it started in 2019?) so there isn’t that second year thing now.

If you have any tips I’d love to hear em!


I used to have the exam nightmares, for years after graduation, but they were replaced by nightmares where I have a pen of livestock somewhere I've just totally forgotten to feed for like, a month.

For awhile after my daughter was born those were replaced by one where I had another infant I was supposed to be caring for that I had totally forgotten about, but thankfully, those didn't persist as she grew and my brain went back to the livestock version.


Funny, I did EECS at Berkeley nearly a decade ago and also still have the occasional nightmare about forgetting to finish something, but remembering at the last minute. Something something about evolution rewarding anxiety and neuroticism.


> My guess is that it’s more prevalent in the very demanding and competitive STEM majors and probably architecture.

My spouse has a bachelors in architecture, and definitely experiences these. Sometimes it's a design presentation that is needed but wasn't done at all, etc.

Architecture degrees are immensely stressful to get, and then the licensure process is insane, and then there's no money in it unless you're a partner, but partners don't get to do much of the conceptual design and drawing stuff usually, which is what usually brings people into architecture school and is the bulk of the school work.

If people knew if you wanted to make a good living in architecture, you'd really just be babysitting contractors, trying to get electrical and hvac engineers to live with the consequences that arise because buildings need both light and ventilation, fighting with permitting offices, and stamping other people's drawings, student life could be a lot less stressful; it's not worth spending every night in design studio working when the job sucks.

Computer Engineering was a lot less work for a bachelors, even though it was a lot. Of course, my school had biomedical engineers, they worked their butts off.




Engineering school is an a living nightmare. People who did not do this degree will never appreciate how much we suffered.


Is EECS at Berkeley significantly harder than other majors?


gpa in nationally ranked engineering schools is usually quite a bit lower than other departments, and a 4.0 is often unheard of. Varies with school.


My ee was from uiowa. Less pressure, but no money.

Harsh so much that I never want to go back to that kind of treatment, and their abuse after I graduated in trying to drag me back into a graduate program.

I'm going to be a repetitive guy with a Roman I know, so downvote me.

“Dig deep within yourself, for there is a fountain of goodness ever ready. Dig deep, and it will ever flow." -Marcus Aurelius


I remember being ~23 and telling someone a generation older, "Yeah, it's crazy; I've been out of college for 2 years but I still have awful dreams about being late for class and showing up for a test I forgot about." I was taken aback as they said, "Oh, I still get those." Sure enough, 20 years later, and so I do.


I once forgot that I’d registered for a course. Got an F in it, and had to contest the grade.

Another time, I had a two hour course, but I thought it was a one hour course, and always came an hour late. One day, the teacher finally snapped: “Are you EVER going to get here on time!?!” The answer was no. No way I was sitting through two hours of that. It was my easiest class in university.

Most of my school-related nightmares have stopped at this point in my life, but they generally weren’t much worse than reality.


I’ve had both of those scenarios as nightmares several times, although I don’t believe I experienced either in waking life.


My big problem with schools (and likely a contributor to my own nightmares) is how they treat themselves as arbiters of what is good and right, above parent's wishes, and especially above the people sitting in the classrooms. High schools should be treating their students as equals to their teachers at the very least. They're adults at this point, but the inhumane regimentation and arbitrary expectations continue. The odd power dynamic boils my blood. It pounded the agency out of me until more than ten years after graduating high school. Students are customers of the school and therefore should hold vastly more power, yet they're treated as cattle. Yes there are amazing teachers who do everything they can, but they're swimming against a strong current.


I have four teenage sons. "treating them as equals" is super, duper silly. Their brains are totally, completely not regulated enough to make good decisions still, and that only changes usually VERY close to graduation.


Indeed, the prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed until around age 25.


I think the problem is the exact opposite. We would would much better off if we treated teachers as the community leaders they are

“Students are customers” - Hard disagree here. I had a great time in college but the effects of the neoliberalization of the university definitely diminished the experience. Schools are one of the only pre-capitalistic institutions left in society that situate folks in time and tradition. Now they are becoming another money grab.


Some are naturals at it and you’re lucky to be around them. Though quite a few don’t have it in their blood. We don’t reward our teachers too well so in the end we get the few naturals versus the it’s just a low paid job, don’t need to apply themselves too much to it. The naturals stick to it despite low pay and bureaucratic obstacles but truly enrich our lives. I remember fondly the few great professors that changed my perception on a subject.




Isn't there a contradiction between wanting that freedom but then taking a decade to redevelop agency?


I don't see how, but perhaps I'm missing your point.

If you interpret what they said as "I want freedom but explicitly chose not to find it until 10 years later" then sure, that might be a contradiction.

If you interpret it as "I really freedom because it took me 10 years to fully realize what happened to me and want others to avoid the same thing" then it's more clear it's not a contradiction. It wasn't a choice, but rather a path they were sent down unknowingly. That's different than thinking it doesn't matter until then. This was my interpretation of it at least.


The GP was framing the school as particularly toxic because it constrains people who really ought to be considered adults as if they were cattle.

In my view, an adult ought to be able to leap at the chance for agency as soon as they emerge from these constraints. Maybe not immediately, but in a year or two at least. Otherwise, it circularily casts doubt on the premise. The argument is that the definition of an adult has to meet a certain standard.

School can be traumatic, and people are allowed to feel bad even if others have it worse, but unless you are severely bullied I see many of the descriptions in this thread as being overly dramatic compared to the crap that people have to deal with in other parts of the world. Hundreds of millions of kids would kill for the chance to be stressed at an American or European school.

Granted, this is not a generous point of view. The only reason I'm making these comments is because I recognize myself so much in the GP's experiences.


I have the college dreams fairly regularly. Usually they are about forgetting to attend class for a whole semester.

But my other recurring dream is about being an LDS missionary again. I think that experience in real life was even more stressful than college—definitely more guilt-inducing. In the dream I'm my current self—mid-40s, married, kids, career, atheist—and yet somehow the church has managed to coerce me back into the mission field alongside the 19-year-old true believers.

Almost every other former Mormon missionary I've asked about it reports having similar recurring dreams.


I also have the forgetting to attend class all semester dream. It is incredibly vivid and I wake up super stressed and sometimes, because college was so long ago, wonder if that actually happened to me.


What were the stakes? What did failure look like? Did you get punished if you didn't indoctrinate enough people?


Eternal hellfire, presumably.


For mormons, you'd presume incorrectly. Talking with missionaries, they believe in a three tier system, the lowest "hell" being darkness, cut away from the light of God


> The reason school dominates as a go-to anxiety setting, Anderson said, is because school is where we build our understanding of how life works.

This was more or less my theory already. Our first, foundational experiences of anxiety, or at least specific kinds of anxiety.

I'm curious: was anyone here home schooled during high school and then didn't attend college? Where does your mind go to for the equivalent of the "institutional anxiety" dream scenario?


School is quite wrong on teaching "how life works", school push us to be competitive and individualist. While real life is much more abput cooperation. School (at least in France) tell us beeing wrong is bad. But making mistakes is essential part of learning.


I cheated my way through high school. I had a scam for every class, every test, every homework assignment. So yeah, I had dreams about school, but mine were more about me feeling guilty. They typically went like this: Some bureaucrat did an audit of all the school work from my high school during the late-80s and somehow identified me as a cheater, so the school revoked my diploma. My college found out, so they revoked my degree. My employer found out, so they fired me. The dream usually ended with all the other kids from my school laughing at me because I got caught cheating, and my life was ruined.

I eventually got over it. The dreams stopped. Once I got to a certain age, I just accepted I was a stupid-ass kid who made mistakes. Live and learn.

BTW, if you're still in school, don't cheat. Take it from me. I spent more time and effort on cheating than I would have if I just did the work as assigned.


I cheated throughout highschool (hacked school system for test answers) and college (old fashioned cheat sheets) and have zero regrets or shame over any of it. I resent the awful system our society has and I resent how awful it has treated me. I 100% encourage cheating for people like me and it was extremely low effort. It resulted in a pretty good start off to my career and I'm now quite successful on my own honest merits.


I never cheated through university but did a lot as well through high school and cegep (pre-college in quebec). Was more like cheat sheets but also just checking what people wrote next to me, or plainly just work with someone next to me where we would pass each other papers with answers.

I have zero remorse. Having to do so much memorization is just not how my brain works. Now employed, I rarely memorize anything but you can bet I can find anything very fast.

I stopped in university mostly because the stakes were higher (you can get expelled for real). I also had to work harder in university because engineering was just so much harder than anything I did before. Also, most classes in uni let you have a sheet of notes instead of wasting time memorizing all those concepts.


I cheated a lot, both in high school and in university (it was basically standard in both places, and I went to best HS in town and one of best CS universities in the country). Never had any regrets about it. I'm from Eastern Europe, so don't believe in a just and well-organized world, anyway - over here, we view it more as a jungle, so in you manage to get ahead without directly harming anyone, it's ok.

BTW I stopped cheating in university in later years, as the classes got more interesting and we were no-longer required to do brutal workloads (the university stuffs first two years of CS degree with a lot of math and physics, to weed out people who are not tough enough I guess).


> I spent more time and effort on cheating than I would have if I just did the work as assigned

You likely didn't. I've heard this many times from people who cheated or people who take steroids. It's just a rationalization about your shitty past actions.


I turned 50 this year, and I'm finally done with college for good. I will never earn a degree.

I tried at least 5 times to finish college. I honestly gave it "the old college try" over, and over, and over again. I really wanted to please my father with that piece of paper in my hand. But that path just wasn't for me.

Elementary school and high school were marvelous, formative experiences for me. The schools were truly safe, secure environments where the Catholic faculty and staff respected me and upheld my human dignity, no matter what. I was never hurt or mistreated by the Irish sisters, nor by the priests and religious, or lay teachers. Now contrast that with my home life where I was subjected to endless shame, emotional trauma, and humiliation. I basically wanted to escape to school and stay there forever.

Unfortunately this came apart at the seams in college, because guess what? My parents had always been the ones pushing and cajoling me through homework and projects and tests and perfect attendance. Without my dual-helicopter parents doing all the work for me, I was doomed to failure, over and over in college. So I dropped out again and again. It wasn't for lack of trying.

Years ago, I did have "school flashback" dreams. I was naked in class. I forgot to study for a final exam. I was being teased or bullied by classmates. Yeah, it was all on replay for years, but I worked past that.

I took a final swing at earning a degree and I got halfway to an Associate's. But truthfully, I did finish what I started, because I earned three professional certifications and landed a fantastic steady job. So in the end, my college days weren't wasted, despite all the credits I'll leave on the table.

I'm grateful for the faculty, staff, and admins who always treated me with utmost respect, kindness, and reminded me of my innate human dignity, and through them I was able to discern a vocation as an educator in my own right.


I have dreams of still being in the military. I always think “I couldn’t have been stupid enough to reenlist, this isn’t possible” while it’s happening.


I have these often as well. Had one the other night where I was headed back to bootcamp at 50. Somehow convinced myself in my dream that I could totally do it.

I always wake up with severe anxiety and have to look around to make sure I'm not living in the barracks.


Same here, with this exact reaction. "Why did I reenlist, I can't believe I would do that?"

And I'm either deployed overseas back in combat or getting ready to leave. And I can't find my weapon or parts of my uniform or equipment.


I served in Israel, mandatory service, and I used to dream for the longest while that my discharge papers got lost and I just stayed there forever ;)

Since I'm making one random reply I might as well mention I used to dream about going to school and not being able to find my class. I think the dream had me skipping all classes (which I did, to go write code instead) for so long that I didn't even know what classes I was supposed to be in or where they were.

Part of my school PTSD is why we (mostly) home schooled our kids.


That is so fascinating. Thanks for sharing.

I was pretty traumatized with parental expectations in school. Starting from high school, to college, to graduate school, I always had the same dream at the start of semesters - I'm incredibly late to the first class to the point I basically miss it. It has a cascading effect where in the dream, I basically feel doomed to be behind all semester. I've never had this dream outside of when I was a student, and that includes a very long hiatus in finishing college.

This is story is one of those things where you read it and the explanation is so obvious, but it never hit you until you see it written out.


I clicked because it's a naturally interesting topic because I (like many others) have this dream, and I usually find The Atlantic to be good quality.

But this doesn't give any meaningful answer to the question, just some speculation that anyone could make and which doesn't seem to be backed by any scientific evidence (of course, I'm aware there is probably no such evidence, but they could be more straightforward about the answer to the title question being "we have no idea").